Those who drive around Orange County don't need a public opinion poll to tell them what they already know: traffic is terrible. Measure M, on the ballot Nov. 7, would provide $3.1 billion over 20 years--financed by a half-cent sales tax--to begin to alleviate the bumper-to-bumper traffic that mars the county as a place to live and work. We support the measure.
A half-cent increase would raise the current sales tax to 6 1/2 cents per dollar and cost the average consumer $50 to $75 per year--not an insignificant amount. But when weighed against the benefits, it seems well worth it.
The measure would earmark 42% of the money for freeway improvements and most of the rest for regional, transit and other road improvements. Among the projects are speeding completion of the Santa Ana Freeway widening, rebuilding the El Toro "Y" interchange of the Santa Ana and the San Diego freeways, building a 220-mile network of "super-streets," expanding rail service and coordinating traffic signals, and adding lanes to stretches of Interstate 5 and the Riverside, Orange and Costa Mesa freeways.
It sounds like a wish list for every weary traveler in the county.
The Yes on Measure M campaign, backed by developers to the tune of $1 million, has the unanimous support of the Board of Supervisors. But, surprisingly, the measure has also drawn support from several prominent slow-growth advocates who usually find themselves on the opposite side of the board and developers. This is primarily because the measure also would require cities to adopt growth-management plans. There is little organized opposition.
Currently, 11 counties in California have half-cent sales taxes for transportation, including every county contiguous to Orange County except for San Bernardino, which now has a similar tax before voters.
Orange Countians soundly defeated a one-cent tax increase for transportation in 1984. A poll conducted for The Times Orange County Edition late last year found that people are very skeptical of government's ability to use the money wisely.
But now, traffic is even worse and people's frustration levels are higher. And surely we realize that in these battened-down days, the billions of dollars needed to begin to have an impact on traffic are not sitting around unspent. The money must come from somewhere. And the support of slow-growth leaders indicates that Measure M has met one important standard that residents said they wanted if they provide new tax money for transportation--strict growth management.
A half-cent sales tax increase, while unpleasant, seems the least painful way to finance these vitally needed transportation improvements.